From the beginning of the New Labour era, Britain started to believe that the class society, as it had known it, had come to an end. A post-industrial society was modern cool Britain. This was perfectly encapsulated by former working-class Deputy Prime minister John ‘two-jag’ Prescott. Known as a person for not mincing his words, Prescott declared “we’re all middle class now“. Since he made this claim, parts of class-obsessed Britain have been looking for an alternative rather than just agreeing with him. That said, the majority have accepted this Americanised common sense without question. But on the left ideas of class never went away. They have just disagreed… what a surprise!
Whether it’s trying to prove that the old class definitions of a past still have some weight in the 21st century; trying to find an theory to speak to the ‘new’ working class; or trying to pit the enlarged middle class against the ‘scroungers’ of the old working class, there is much to be said about class-based society. But what if we are asking the wrong questions? Maybe it isn’t about questioning why people think they are middle class because they have a new car on finance, a white collar job and a new-build, two-up two-down with a 90% mortgage.
The left wants to shake the zombified middle classes to make them arise from their false consciousness and make them see that the socialist utopia is going to save us all including the planet; that we can have a world not based on the desire for the latest commodity. A world where we are all free, not only those that live in countries with welfare states, but the whole world. But once one is encapsulated within the individualism of the West, is it possible to break out? Are the left wasting their time? Can we revive the class consciousness of the old world? The sense of community that was around before the post-industrial world came to be and we all started using shopping centres at the weekends to escape our exploitation during the week. The cohesive society that both the left and right long for but have different analysis of. Or is this gone? Is the idea of class consciousness lost on the individualist liberal West? Maybe we should all give up and accept the Greek stoic values that so many in Silicone Valley preach about.
I think, returning to the first set of questions, is essential to understand the latter better. Why do Brits and large majorities of certain societies in Europe, think they are middle class, or indeed that they belong to no class at all. I think it is less about thinking that we are middle class, but more about classlessness: the ideal imported from the USA. It has become fused with our own residual ideology of a class based society. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. This is how ideology works, it has to remould the past to dominate the present and control the future. Just like when the aftermath of the bourgeoisie revolution took hold in Great Britain, many ideas from the previous ideology, the divine right of kings and feudalism, were fused into modern society. This is called combined or uneven societal development. It shows why in Great Britain we have a monarchy alongside democracy and ‘Lords’ who are still large landowners, alongside capitalist corporations. This process takes hold when competition between countries forces them to move their mode of production (capitalism) forward, yet it has a foot in the old mode of production (feudalism/right of kings) thus mixing the old with the new. As many countries imported the American style capitalism connected to globalisation, they also brought with it ideas of hyper meritocracy and the classless ideals of the American dream. This synthesized with the class based societies that had come before it to create the image of ‘we’re all middle class now‘ in a post-industrial society. (Which also doesn’t really exist!)
For the society that has more food banks than McDonald’s, it’s obvious that today’s capitalism with its ideology is working for the few and not the many. This classlessness thinking is a core component of American hegemony in an age of global monopoly capitalism.
Maybe we need to punch our way out like John